Aug 12, 2011 (110812)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The fact that the environment of the Niger Delta, and that
portion of it known as Ogoniland, has been devastated by
oil pollution for decades should not be news. It has been
repeatedly exposed by Nigerian and international activists
in print, court testimony, photographs, and films, and
punctuated by the 1995 martyrdom of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his
fellow Ogoni activists. But this month, for the first time,
a comprehensive scientific survey of oil pollution in
Ogoniland has concluded that the pollution is even more
pervasive than many previously assumed. Simultaneously, in
response to a class-action suit in London, Shell Oil has
accepted responsibility for two massive oil spills in
Ogoniland in 1998.
The report, carried out by a team of experts under the
auspices of the United Nations Environmental Programme
(UNEP), investigated more than 200 locations, and carried
out detailed examination of 69 oil spill sites, collecting
more than 4,000 soil and groundwater samples. The report,
financed by Shell itself on the basis of the principle
"polluter pays," was controversial and carefully focused on
evaluating the damage, without venturing into precise
allocation of blame. But the implication of massive failure
by Shell, as well as by the Nigerian state oil company, by
Nigerian state regulators, and by the home countries of
Shell (United Kingdom and the Netherlands) is inescapable.
The report recommends an immediate initial investment of $1
billion, by Shell and the Nigerian government, for the
first five years of a comprehensive cleanup which it
estimated could take as long as 30 years, but did not
estimate the total cost. Environmental Rights Action, a
Nigerian group, estimated that at least $100 billion was
needed. Activists also noted that the report only included
Ogoniland, and that similar conditions prevailed in other
oil-producing areas of the Niger Delta.
The new report, as well as the precedent of Shell's
acceptance of responsibility for the 1998 spills, may
provide new momentum for action. And, as the report
indicated, the cleanup could provide much needed jobs for
the region. Even so, major questions remain about the
political will and commitment of Shell and the Nigerian
government to act on the recommendations of the report.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release on the
report from UNEP, and an informative commentary on its
significance by Deirdre LaPin, published in allAfrica.com.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today but not sent
out by email, available on the web at http://www.africafocus.org/docs11/nig1108b.php, contains
an article on the Bodo spills by John Vidal, environment
correspondent of the Guardian, a background fact sheet on
the UNEP report and oil pollution in Ogoniland from Friends
of the Earth Netherlands, and excerpts from the executive
summary of the UNEP report.
Abuja, 4 August 2011 - The environmental restoration of
Ogoniland could prove to be the world's most wide-ranging
and long term oil clean-up exercise ever undertaken if
contaminated drinking water, land, creeks and important
ecosystems such as mangroves are to be brought back to
full, productive health.
A major new independent scientific assessment, carried out
by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), shows
that pollution from over 50 years of oil operations in the
region has penetrated further and deeper than many may have
The assessment has been unprecedented. Over a 14-month
period, the UNEP team examined more than 200 locations,
surveyed 122 kilometres of pipeline rights of way, reviewed
more than 5,000 medical records and engaged over 23,000
people at local community meetings.
Detailed soil and groundwater contamination investigations
were conducted at 69 sites, which ranged in size from 1,300
square metres (Barabeedom-K.dere, Gokana local government
area (LGA) to 79 hectares (Ajeokpori-Akpajo, Eleme LGA).
Altogether more than 4,000 samples were analyzed, including
water taken from 142 groundwater monitoring wells drilled
specifically for the study and soil extracted from 780
Some areas, which appear unaffected at the surface, are in
reality severely contaminated underground and action to
protect human health and reduce the risks to affected
communities should occur without delay says UNEP's
Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.
In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is
contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public
health is seriously threatened, according to the assessment
that was released today.
In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western
Ogoniland, families are drinking water from wells that is
contaminated with benzene- a known carcinogen-at levels
over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines.
The site is close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company
UNEP scientists found an 8 cm layer of refined oil floating
on the groundwater which serves the wells. This was
reportedly linked to an oil spill which occurred more than
six years ago.
While the report provides clear operational recommendations
for addressing the widespread oil pollution across
Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in
Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all
other remediation efforts.
While some on-the-ground results could be immediate,
overall the report estimates that countering and cleaning
up the pollution and catalyzing a sustainable recovery of
Ogoniland could take 25 to 30 years.
This work will require the deployment of modern technology
to clean up contaminated land and water, improved
environmental monitoring and regulation and collaborative
action between the government, the Ogoni people and the oil
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP
Executive Director, said the report provided the scientific
basis on which a long overdue and concerted environmental
restoration of Ogoniland, a kingdom in Nigeria's Niger
Delta region, can begin.
"The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian
economy for over 50 years, but many Nigerians have paid a
high price, as this assessment underlines," he said.
"It is UNEP's hope that the findings can break the decades
of deadlock in the region and provide the foundation upon
which trust can be built and action undertaken to remedy
the multiple health and sustainable development issues
facing people in Ogoniland. In addition it offers a
blueprint for how the oil industry-and public regulatory
authorities- might operate more responsibly in Africa and
beyond at a time of increasing production and exploration
across many parts of the Continent," said Mr Steiner.
"The clean-up of Ogoniland will not only address a tragic
legacy but also represents a major ecological restoration
enterprise with potentially multiple positive effects
ranging from bringing the various stakeholders together in
a single concerted cause to achieving lasting improvements
for the Ogoni people," said the UNEP Executive Director.
UNEP today presented its report to the President of
Nigeria, The Hon Goodluck Jonathan, in the Nigerian capital
Among its other findings are:-
Control and maintenance of oilfield infrastructure in
Ogoniland has been and remains inadequate: the Shell
Petroleum Development Company's own procedures have not
been applied, creating public health and safety issues.
The impact of oil on mangrove vegetation has been
disastrous. Oil pollution in many intertidal creeks has
left mangroves-nurseries for fish and natural pollution
filters- denuded of leaves and stems with roots coated in a
layer of bitumen-type substance sometimes one centimetre or
The five highest concentrations of Total Petroleum
Hydrocarbons detected in groundwater exceed 1 million
micrograms per litre (µg/l) - compared to the Nigerian
standard for groundwater of 600 µg/l.
When an oil spill occurs on land, fires often break out,
killing vegetation and creating a crust over the land,
making remediation or revegetation difficult. At some
sites, a crust of ash and tar has been in place for several
The surface water throughout the creeks in and
surrounding Ogoniland contain hydrocarbons. Floating layers
of oil vary from thick black oil to thin sheens.
Despite community concerns, the results show that fish
consumption in Ogoniland, either of those caught locally or
purchased from markets, was not posing a health risk.
The report says that fish tend to leave polluted areas in
search of cleaner water. However, the fisheries sector is
suffering due to the destruction of fish habitat and highly
persistent contamination of many creeks. Where
entrepreneurs have established fish farms for example their
businesses have been ruined by an "ever-present" layer of
The Ogoni community is exposed to hydrocarbons every day
through multiple routes. While the impact of individual
contaminated land sites tends to be localized, air
pollution related to oil industry operations is all
pervasive and affecting the quality of life of close to one
Artisanal refining (a practice whereby crude oil
illegally obtained from oil industry operations is refined
in primitive stills), is endangering lives and ultimately
causing pockets of environmental devastation in Ogoniland
and neighbouring areas.
Remote sensing revealed that in Bodo West, in Bonny LGA, an
increase in artisanal refining between 2007 and 2011 has
been accompanied by a 10% loss of healthy mangrove cover -
or over 307,380 square metres.
Remediation by enhanced natural attenuation (RENA) - a
way of boosting the ability of naturally-occuring microbes
to breakdown oil and so far the only remediation method
observed by UNEP in Ogoniland - has not proven to be
Currently, SPDC applies this technique on the land surface
layer only, based on the assumption that given the kind of
oil concerned, factors such as temperature and an
underlying layer of clay, hydrocarbons will not move
deeper. However, in 49 cases UNEP observed hydrocarbons in
soil at depths of at least 5 m.
Next Steps Recommendations
Through a combination of approaches, individual
contaminated land areas in Ogoniland can be cleaned up
within five years, while the restoration of heavilyimpacted
mangrove stands and swamplands will take up to 30
However, according to the report, all sources of ongoing
contamination must be brought to an end before the clean-up
of the creeks, sediments and mangroves can begin.
The report recommends establishing three new institutions
in Nigeria to support a comprehensive environmental
A proposed Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority
would oversee implementation of the study's recommendations
and should be set up during a Transition Phase which UNEP
suggests should begin as soon as possible.
The Authority's activities should be funded by an
Environmental Restoration Fund for Ogoniland, to be set up
with an initial capital injection of US$1 billion
contributed by the oil industry and the government, to
cover the first five years of the clean-up project.
A recommended Integrated Contaminated Soil Management
Centre, to be built in Ogoniland and supported by
potentially hundreds of mini treatment centres, would treat
contaminated soil and provide hundreds of job
The report also recommends creating a Centre of Excellence
in Environmental Restoration in Ogoniland to promote
learning and benefit other communities impacted by oil
contamination in the Niger Delta and elsewhere in the
Reforms of environmental government regulation, monitoring
and enforcement, and improved practices by the oil industry
are also recommended in the report.
Site-specific fact sheets containing detailed information
about 67 of the contaminated sites studied in detail are
also available at this website.
This report details how the UNEP team carried out their
work, where samples were taken and the findings that they
The UNEP assessment, alongside options for remediation, was
conducted at the request of the Government of Nigeria. If
requested, UNEP is willing to remain a committed partner of
the Nigerian authorities and of the Ogoni people as they
address the environmental challenges ahead.
Dr. Deirdre LaPin is a senior fellow at the African Studies
Center of the University of Pennsylvania and a consultant
on development and corporate responsibility. She was
previously a research associate and lecturer at the
University of Ife, Nigeria, and served with Shell from 1997
to 2003 in helping establish sustainable community
The recommendations of the United Nations Environment
Programme's study on oil pollution in Ogoniland point to
the need for a genuine shift in the priorities and
practices of the oil industry and government regulatory
agencies in the Niger Delta, writes AllAfrica guest
columnist Deirdre LaPin.
The study makes clear that nothing less than ending
pollution and full remediation of Ogoniland and the whole
Niger Delta region should be accepted as an end point, she
The long-awaited report from the United National
Environmental Program (UNEP) on oil damage in the Ogoni
area was presented to President Goodluck Jonathan on August
4 in Abuja. This important study, the first of its kind in
the Niger Delta, was conceived well before 2006 by the
Federal Government as part of the Ogoni reconciliation and
peace process led by Father Matthew Kukah (recently named
Bishop of Sokoto). Intended as a major assessment of the
impacts of oil production in the Ogoni region, UNEP in an
early statement described the aim as to "clarify and demystify
concerns expressed by local communities".
Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) suspended active
production in Ogoniland in late 1993 as a response to
growing resistance to industry presence led by the martyred
freedom fighter and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa. However, the
company remained responsible during its withdrawal for
monitoring and maintaining its installations, and
especially the critical Trans-Niger pipeline serving Bonny
Terminal. It also left behind a number of spill sites.
Over the years the Company had mixed success in negotiating
with local communities access to spills sites or achieving
their complete remediation. The impoverished local
population also pursued informal oil production that
centered on bunkering (oil pipeline tapping) and bush
refining - increasing opportunities for further spills and
pollution. In keeping with the "polluter pays" principle,
the operator SPDC joint venture funded the U.S. $9.5
million UNEP study.
Last week the press had a field day with the freshly
Journalists whisked together highlights and added spice
from the region's contested history. Some articles cooked
in the press kitchen missed key ingredients or simply got
them mixed up. The best among them focused on the findings
from the study's careful scientific analysis, which led
UNEP to the conclusion that "pollution has perhaps gone
further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously
This forceful opinion stated in the foreword by UNEP's
executive director Achim Steiner represents a long step
beyond the study's original technical terms of reference or
the limited policy aims supporting reconciliation and "demystification."
Now in 2011 UNEP's thoughtful recommendations, while not
assigning blame, point clearly to the need for a genuine
shift in the priorities and practices of the oil industry
and governmental regulatory agencies operating throughout
the Niger Delta. The muscular sub-text rippling throughout
the report makes clear that nothing less than ending
pollution and full remediation of Ogoniland (and indeed the
whole Niger Delta region) should be accepted as an end
The report offers guidance to address this aim. Steps
include (a) a transition phase for detailed remediation and
environmental management planning; (b) an immediate end to
bunkering and artisanal refining; (c) creation of a
Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Center, which could
employ hundreds of local youth; (d) improved remediation
management and harmonization and strengthening of various
regulatory guidelines; and (e) implementation of eight
emergency measures to protect the health and well being of
residents in Ogoniland.
In an earlier interview, Mr. Steiner vowed, "I can assure
you this report will get the world's attention For the
first time we can actually begin to build a plan for
remediation". It would indeed be a wonderful thing to see
future action that goes beyond ink and rhetoric, but the
path will not be easy. Its course will require a huge
measure of political will.
What the report does not fully reveal are the hazards and
missteps that threatened to upend the study itself.
President Jonathan rightly notes that "an environmental
war" has been waged in the region for 50 years.
Anyone familiar with the long, tortuous history of UNEP
study will be moved to commend the agency and the
presidential committee under Father Kukah for their
perseverance and courage in seeking to bring the truth to
light. Their success was no less due to the peaceful and
patient support of the long suffering residents of
Ogoniland. The technical and political processes driving
the study were intrusive, time-consuming, and at times
unclear. For more than four years many strangers were
welcomed into Ogoniland and facilitated by men and women in
countless ways, despite deep felt grievances born of
repeated past injustices from both public and private
Mr. Steiner has described UNEP's decision to undertake the
study a "calculated risk" in the hope of spurring action to
rectify what he perceives as a "scandal." Aware that they
were entering a "contested area," the project team from
UNEP's Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch in
Geneva packed its toolkit of technical acumen and good
intentions and walked, somewhat naively, straight into a
The polemical dimension of the environmental war had
created a seasoned cadre of Ogoni activists wary of good
intentions. Past experience made them quick to see a hidden
agenda behind nearly every initiative. They had also become
masters of the message, raising their suspicions in public
statements and in the press.
Field-level preparations in the first phase of the
environmental study gained some momentum in late 2006.
Almost immediately, it proved to be a false start. At a
stakeholder engagement meeting in Gokana in November 2006,
Rivers State Governor Peter Odili alluded to a lingering
problem when he noted that "the exercise had nothing to do
with Shell's re-entry into Ogoni."
For some years a rumor had circulated throughout the area
that the reconciliation sought by Father Kukah's committee
was in fact meant to pave the way for SPDC to resume
production in the area. Adding to this suspicion was the
discovery that the UNEP Project Coordinator based in Geneva
was an environmental assessment specialist who had
previously been employed in Oman by a national oil company
advised by Shell. For these and other reasons, the study
was temporarily suspended until a revised agreement was
signed with the Federal Government on November 5, 2007.
By October 2009 UNEP opened a project office in Port
Harcourt for its second phase under the direction of a
field project coordinator, Mike Cowing. He was assisted by
23 international, national and local staff. A spirit of
goodwill and transparency seemed to infuse the project. A
web page at the UNEP site offered regular "field news
updates" and reported the official "relaunch" of UNEP's
environmental assessment in Ogoniland in November 2009. By
May 2010 the scientific sampling of oil contaminated sites
had begun in collaboration with the Rivers State University
of Science and Technology.
In early August 2010 Mr. Cowing shared preliminary results
from the field study at a UNEP press conference. His
comments, among others, observed that 10 percent of oil
spills at the sites studied could be attributed to SPDC,
implying that the others were related to the illicit local
This assessment was not inconceivable for a region that had
no formal oil production since 1993 but which did have an
active ongoing informal oil bunkering and refining.
However, given that the study had not been completed, the
comment was premature. It was also unwise because it failed
to underscore the significance of industry responsibility
for its ageing infrastructure and slow remediation. Instead
it appeared to blame the victim. On August 23 2010 UNEP
apologized for the statement.
MOSOP withdrew its support for the study and complained of
inadequate stakeholder engagement. (The report, however,
says that 264 meetings attended by 23,000 people were
held.) Nevertheless, the project continued undeterred. Its
team studied over 4,000 samples of sediments from creeks,
surface water, rainwater, fish and air - including 142
samples from groundwater wells drilled specifically for the
project and soil samples from 780 boreholes. In addition,
over 5,000 medical records were examined.
Last week both MOSOP and Amnesty International voiced
reservations about the study (which they had not yet seen)
on the eve of its submission to the Nigerian president.
Overall, the report seems to have won over most skeptics.
Its scientific grounding is unprecedented for the Niger
Delta and its careful wording reflects a desire to avoid
blame and serve as a force for good. Shell announced that
it welcomed the study.
What Shell did not welcome was the (perhaps) coincidental
timing of a judgment. In a British High Court on the day
before the release of the UNEP report, SPDC was ordered to
pay compensation of about $410 million to the Bodo
community in Ogoniland for two large operational spills in
2008. They resulted in water and soil contamination from
4,000 barrels spilled.
In an open letter, the SPDC managing director Mutiu Sunmonu
called the spills a "tragedy," saying that SPDC had always
accepted responsibility for paying compensation for spills
when they occur as a result of operational failure. At the
same time he reminded his audience of the damage to the
environment being done by the illegal oil economy.
Remediation of Ogoniland must be the next step. President
Jonathan has made muscular statements about the
government's position. In accepting the report he vowed it
would "not be put in a drawer." But faced with an estimated
$1 billion price tag for what may become the world's "most
wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up," he has also
requested UN and industry support in pursuing the
remediation plan proposed.
It will take more than money. The president will need to
firmly demonstrate his political will. UNEP's call to
improve government regulations and oversight will require
honest effort and continuous monitoring, ideally with some
Its eight "emergency" recommendations - to ensure safe
water supply, signpost unsafe polluted areas, and mobilize
the community to halt bunkering and artisanal refining -
will require swift and concerted government effort at all
levels. Ending bunkering and refining in the well developed
informal oil industry will present a special challenge.
The report notes that these activities are typically
conducted in collusion with government, current or former
industry staff, and security forces.
Persuading youth into the legitimate economy could be
significantly helped by UNEP's proposal for establishing an
Integrated Contaminated Soil Management Center. Run
properly on a commercial basis, this business could employ
large numbers of local workers, especially the young
unemployed men most likely to be attracted by the illicit
oil economy. The center represents a huge opportunity, as
treatment of contaminated soil, bioremediation, and
protecting ground water is needed throughout the Niger
Delta, well beyond the Ogoni region.
Last week the Minister of the Environment, Hajiya Hadiza
Mailafiya, assured reporters that the government was
prepared to implement the report and that the National Oil
Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) would be
responsible for cleaning up Ogoniland.
If NOSDRA were to take on such a complex technical and
political exercise, it will need to make sharp improvements
over its past performance. Instead, the report proposes the
creation of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration
Authority, supported by an extrabudgetary Restoration Fund,
to oversee the implementation of its recommendations over
the next ten years.
Perhaps the first step the government needs to take is to
read, digest, and carefully plan its response to the
report. The time of vague assurances has long passed.
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